Repairs underway thanks to largest investment in national parks in over 60 years
The Great American Outdoors Act (GAO) Act, enacted last August, marked the largest investment in restoring the national parks system, the national forest system, Bureau of Land Management properties, the National Wildlife Refuge System and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools since World War II. The law also permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides funds for the acquisition of federal lands and grants to states for the rehabilitation of parks and recreation.
Over five years, federal land agencies and the IBE will receive up to $ 9.5 billion – not from taxpayers, but funded by mining revenues from energy development on public lands and waters – to deal with repairs priority. The bulk of that investment – up to $ 6.65 billion over five years, or $ 1.3 billion annually – will go to the National Park Service (NPS), which manages the largest number of physical assets and visitors among recipient agencies. This interview with NPS Deputy Director of Operations Shawn Benge has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: The National Park Service, or NPS, manages over 400 sites and has an estimated $ 13 billion in backlog of repairs. What kind of repairs are we talking about?
A: Many of the roads, trails, washrooms, water treatment systems and visitor facilities in national parks are aging and are subject to a level of use they are not designed to withstand.
Q: Will Great American Outdoors Act funding reduce this backlog?
A: The Law’s National Parks and Public Lands Heritage Restoration Fund, or LRF, is an extraordinary opportunity for the parks service to make critical investments in infrastructure so that people have safe and memorable experiences when they are visit our parks.
Q: How much money will the park department receive from this fund?
A: Under the provisions of the law, the NPS receives 70% of the Legacy Restoration Fund. That’s up to $ 1.3 billion per year, or up to $ 6.65 billion in total, through 2025, and this much-needed infusion will help us make significant progress in reducing our maintenance backlog. , in particular by allowing us to handle some of the largest and most expensive infrastructure projects.
Q: Since this money will not cover all of the backlog, how do you prioritize your spending?
A: The maintenance backlog is not distributed evenly across parks, as large parks and high-traffic parks tend to have more infrastructure and higher maintenance backlogs. So in 2021, we are focusing Legacy Restoration Fund investments on projects that would significantly reduce deferred maintenance in large parks with considerable infrastructure, as well as projects that would benefit the greatest number of visitors.
We also prioritize projects that address health and safety issues and improve accessibility for people with disabilities. There are also financial considerations, such as the cost of maintaining things over time and the potential for public-private partnerships that would leverage federal funding with private funds.
But, just like a house, the park’s facilities will always need ongoing care and maintenance, so we will have to continue to rely on traditional sources of funding, such as entrance fees, annual Congress funding and the fundraising from park partners, to meet ongoing and long-term needs. maintenance needs over time.
Q: Is there a way for people to know exactly what projects you are going to take on this year?
A: The full list of projects funded in 2021 can be found on the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) / US Department of the Interior (doi.gov). And the best way to track the progress of specific projects is to visit park websites and social media pages or nps.gov.
Q: What about next year?
A: Have been identify, as part of the normal budget process, the projects proposed for 2022 funding, and they will be included in the NPS Green Paper, a compilation of the agency’s budget needs and justifications.
Q: What steps is the park department taking to ensure the effective implementation of Great American Outdoors Act funds?
A: The law has given us an important opportunity, so we want to maximize the impact of every dollar. We have a dedicated team focused on monitoring and implementing Heritage Restoration Fund projects across the park department. And we make good investment decisions; we are considering long-term operational commitments as GAO provides five years of funding; and we leverage public-private partnerships so that every project delivers long-term value to the American people. To be as efficient and effective as possible, we build on existing processes, offices and staff to build program capacity and support where needed, while adapting existing procedures and tools to ensure that projects are on scope and on schedule.
Q: Do you also have something called Preservation Maintenance Action Teams?
A: Yes, using the incredible skills and technical expertise of the Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center and Historic Architecture and Engineering Center, we are forming 10 geographically based Preservation Maintenance Action Teams. These teams will focus on historic preservation and the cyclical maintenance needs of cultural resources such as historic buildings. And they will support small and medium sized parks that are typically not well positioned to have the specialist expertise needed to develop and deliver these projects in-house. We anticipate that more than 40 parks will benefit from these teams as we test this concept for the parks department.
Q: Do the infrastructure projects that the Great American Outdoors Act will fund have an economic impact on communities adjacent to national parks?
A: Yes, the annual investment of up to $ 1.3 billion will in turn support jobs, local community businesses and our national economy. A recent economic analysis estimates that the Legacy Restoration Fund’s investments alone in 2021 will have economic output of $ 3.2 billion; add $ 1.7 billion to the national GDP; support $ 1 billion in labor income, or the amount earned by employed workers; and will represent 15,350 job-years, ie the number of jobs but not the number of workers financed by project expenditures.
Q: Can partners help fund repairs to the fleet?
A: There are many opportunities for the philanthropic community to partner with the parks service, particularly by helping us support Heritage Restoration Fund investments in the future or by meeting other needs that the fund does not meet. not. We encourage partners to work with individual parks to identify these specific opportunities.